Danish comedy Men and Chicken highlights the recent Chattanooga Film Festival
One major benefit of the Chattanooga Film Festival is the inclusion of little-known quality films that can be found in the lineup. Each year, there are an assortment of strange, beautiful experiences that remind attendees of just what film can do as an art form. It’s easy for Americans to forget that film is not exclusive to Hollywood—truly, the best, most complex films can come from anywhere.
In particular, there have been a variety of fascinating films from the Nordic regions of Europe. During the first year of the CFF, audiences were treated to Borgman, a film about what seems to be the world’s slowest home invasion. Viewing Borgman is more than simply an odd experience; it’s one that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.
This year featured another film, different than Borgman entirely, yet leaving the same sort of “what did I just watch?” feeling. Men and Chicken is ostensibly a comedy from Denmark about two brothers learning about their family roots.
However, there are elements of Frankenstein-esque science fiction in addition to the Three Stooges style slapstick—Men and Chicken is abounding in its weirdness and delightful in its heart. It feels like one of the better episodes of The X-Files told entirely by the monster of the week. It’s a film that reminds us of why the CFF is so important. It’s not just passing conversations with Clint Howard or free tattoos under the tent on Broad Street. It’s the films—above all and always, it’s the films.
The film opens with the death of an old man, who tells his sons about their true parentage via video tape after his passing. Gabriel and Elias (David Dencik and Mads Mikkelsen) could not be more different. Gabriel is educated and curious about the world, about science, and teaches at a college. Elias responds to personal ads in order to receive free therapy and cannot be near a woman for long without masturbating furiously. In fact, the only similarity they share is a father and a hair lip.
It is through the aforementioned video tape that the boys learn that their real father was a geneticist named Evelio Thanatos who lives on the island of Ork. Their mothers are nowhere to be found—likely dead or long gone. The brothers travel to the sparsely populated island, meeting the few strange inhabitants as they search for a man they’ve never met. When they find his house, they learn they have three half brothers, each with a hair lip and a penchant for beating visitors with poorly taxidermied animals.
The men, the youngest of which is in his late 20s, are essentially feral, living by their own rules set out by their father, who is sick and confined to his room. After a few false starts, Gabriel and Elias move into the dilapidated mansion, hoping to discover more about their ancestry and tame their newfound family.
Men and Chicken is, by and large, the funniest film I’ve seen in a long time. There are dark implications to the story, questions of morality and abuse and life itself, which are almost entirely ignored in favor of exploring the absurdity of the situation. The performances are excellent, with subtle commitment to character, as opposed to the American tradition of gross exaggeration.
Each character behaves exactly as you might expect them to, staying to their motivations and traits, without forsaking the story for a quick joke or one liner. The writing is solid in its development—there are reasons for everything, even though the reasons are far and away more ridiculous than you can imagine.
Men and Chicken is an example of a film that more audiences should see. For whatever reason, American audiences are put off by subtitles, which cause them to miss out on truly wonderful films. It seems they’d rather watch Melissa McCarthy play the same character over and over simply because it’s in English.
The Hollywood tradition of recycling plots and ideas to maximize their profits does wonders for stifling innovation, especially in comedy films. Perhaps this why Men and Chicken seems so refreshing. Perhaps this is why the Chattanooga Film Festival seems so important. And perhaps, this is why the Scenic City needs to do what it can to embrace the upcoming art house movie theater Cine-Rama. If nothing else, it will bring in more films like Men and Chicken.